When both the White House and U.S. Army advised everyone not to jump to conclusions on the Fort Hood shootings, many government officials and journalists claimed that political correctness should not impede the truth. Some said the Muslim community was not condemning the incident vociferously enough. Others claimed that the Muslim community was overcompensating by being too apologetic. Talk about mixed signals!
“Is it because I’m white,” he asked.
“No, no. It’s not like that,” I replied.
“Then why won’t you go out with me? I’m a good guy.”
My naïve nineteen-year-old self tried to explain that I, being a good Muslim girl, just didn’t date. It was me, not him.
He was not convinced that there may be a possibility I was just not into him. Apparently, his offer was too good for me to pass up.
“It’s because I’m white. You won’t date me because I’m white. You’re a racist.”
Ok, I thought, now this is getting awkward.
Then he followed up with the kicker, “Well, whatever. Your people were my people’s slaves back in the day! You’re probably a terrorist anyways.”
What a charmer. Maybe he thought I would throw myself at his feet saying, “Take me now, masa’sir, I will be your Afro-Paki love-slave! Right after I recite the pledge of allegiance and bake you an apple pie.”
As I searched for a witty, semi-intellectual yet polite comeback I did what I always do in uncomfortable situations – I laughed. I was shocked, but rather than being offended I was embarrassed by his ignorance. I wondered if I should explain that “my people” did not exist, and I had never met another American Muslim of Indian-South African and Pakistani descent. Perhaps also explain to him that if he were to Wikipedia the African-American slave trade he would see that it ended long before my parents arrived in this country in 1979.
These past couple of weeks I have been similarly stunned and embarrassed by the ignorance of some of the comments and speculations put forward by certain government officials and media pundits in the wake of the tragic Fort Hood attack. Immediately after the attack Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman announced that he thought Major Nadal Hasan had become an “Islamic extremist.” North Carolina Representative Sue Myrick supported his statements and expressed her own concerns about the “infiltration of Jihadists in the military.” When both the White House and U.S. Army advised everyone not to jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts, many government officials and journalists responded with indignation, claiming that political correctness should not impede the truth. The truth, they believed, seemed to be that there lurks a fundamental evil in Islam and Muslims.
Pretty soon a slew of other loons came out of the woodwork to debate the problem with Islam as a belief system and Muslims as Americans. The American Family Association called for a ban of all Muslims from the military. Ever the problem-solver, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News alluded to a “winning the hearts and minds strategy” because he said, “we can’t kill all the Muslims.” Former “rouge” Vice-Presidential candidate and current talk show favorite Sarah Palin announced her support for profiling Muslims.
Some said the Muslim community was not trying hard enough to assimilate as it was not condemning the incident vociferously enough. Others claimed that the Muslim community was overcompensating by being too apologetic. Some, like Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School, said that regardless of whether or not Muslims condemned or condoned the act, they carried with them a predisposition to violence. He went on to try to coin the phrase “Going Muslim” to refer to any individual acting violently who may be Muslim, equating Islam to violence once again.
Talk about mixed signals! It was the awkward white boy asking the naïve brown girl out all over again. After all these years of the media and government asking American Muslims to integrate and assimilate and after all these years of us doing just that, we were being told once again, “Uh, we kinda like you but you’re not one of us. Are you evil?”
The proud slave-owner descendant’s (PSOD) young age and sheltered upbringing might excuse his ignorance, and his bruised ego could be to blame for his outburst, but the aforementioned individuals do not have any of those benefits. Furthermore, PSOD’s words, aside from giving me a slightly amusing anecdote to write about, had no significant impact on anyone else.
The words of these other individuals directly impact government action and public opinion. Myrick, for example, sits on the Intelligence Committee, which will review the Fort Hood incident. It seems clear, though, as she is leading a group of House Republicans in an investigation of Muslim intern “spies” on Capitol Hill, that she already has all the proof she requires – Major Hasan was Muslim, therefore, he was a terrorist because all Muslims are terrorists—the transitive property of terrorism.
Therein lays the problem. The criteria currently espoused by Myrick, Lieberman and Co. to evaluate terrorism is functionally equivalent to the test PSOD used to determine that I must be a slave-terrorist. As an American Muslim who is neither a slave nor a terrorist I take offense to such standards. As a law student I am appalled that these educated and otherwise respected legislators and media pundits could be so arrogantly steadfast in their views while remaining so oblivious about the matter on which they are speaking. The terms “Islamic extremist/terrorist,” “Jihadist,” or “Islamist,” etc. have no bearing in Islam and hold no meaning to the adherents of its tenants. To attribute these terms to Major Hasan based on his being Muslim oversimplifies the matter.
Hasan’s life was shaped and influenced by a variety of circumstances and experiences, of which Islam played only a small role. His ultimate disillusionment with his job and his life was a product of all his life experiences. Yes, this includes his Islamic upbringing, but also his university education and his time in the Army, amongst other factors. Overall, he seems to have grown up in a fairly average American immigrant family and spent the latter half of his typical all-American life in the Army.
In the Army Hasan witnessed the chaos and tragedy of war first-hand, and as a psychiatrist he probably heard even more horrific personal accounts. He was last stationed at an army base which had a large number of soldiers commit suicide and act out violently recently. At the same time he was ostracized for being Muslim by other soldiers, which he seems to have deeply resented. Are we to say that the stress from the army drove him to commit murder and the army is responsible for his crimes?
For a smaller period prior to his Army life, Hasan attended Virginia Tech. Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech also attended the same school years later. Are we to argue that Virginia Tech may be to blame for their propensity for violence? What if it turns out Cho dormed in the same building on campus as Hasan or had some of the same professors? Where do we draw the line regarding what constitute relevant facts in determining institutional influence on culpability?
Perhaps the most amusing analysis of Hasan’s inexplicable behavior came from Imam Faisal Khan, whose mosque Hasan attended for over ten years. He said that Hasan had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a wife for the last several years. He had even signed up for a matchmaking service for this purpose but apparently had grown quite frustrated with his lack of success in finding a suitable spouse.
Imam Yahya Hendi reiterated Khan’s assertions recently, stating that he too tried to help Hasan with his quest to find the right woman. So maybe that was it – Hasan was mad because he could not get a date. Maybe he should have gone to the PSOD for some advice on how to handle the ladies. Whatever his reasons were, no matter how plausible or absurd, Hasan’s reaction to the circumstances in his life is a reflection of his inability to cope with his reality. His decisions, his actions, his choices were his alone for which only he should be held responsible.
I never did go out with the PSOD. I do not remember his name, what he looks like, or anything else about him, but his words have stayed with me over the years. I know his hurtful comments do not reflect “white culture” or white men any more than Hasan’s horrific actions reflect my identity as an American Muslim. Similarly, I know that the sensationalist accusations and fear-mongering statements made by certain individuals upset over this tragedy do not reflect the opinion of the general American public.
Nevertheless, I fear that in this world of quips and sound-bites, sometimes those who yell the loudest are the only ones who are heard. At times like this, it is imperative that we do not allow our fears to dictate our judgments of others. As President Obama said, “It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts, no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice – in this world, and the next.”
And though this is after a six-year delay, I would like to say, for the record, there are no affirmative action rights in dating.
Growing up as a Pakistani-South African Muslim in suburbia New Jersey, Nadia Mohammad spent much of her childhood thinking she was Desi until she moved to Pakistan and learned she was American. Returning to the U.S. with this new perspective and a defiance of social stereotypes she delved into the world of South Asian and Muslim American media and activism. Currently a third-year law student in Chicago, she continues to believe in the values of justice and equality with cupcakes for all.